Robin Williams and the Dark Side of Genius

by Evil HR Lady on August 12, 2014

We all grew up with Robin Williams. For me, it began with Mork& Mindy in the late 1970s and early 1980s and continued with the angsty teen drama, The Dead Poets Society, and then back to laughing with Aladdin and I’m looking forward to watching the upcomingNight at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb with my children. Unfortunately, Williams’brilliant career came to an abrupt end last night when he died, in an apparent suicide.

If you Google Robin Williams genius, you get over 8 million hits, because that is what he was. A genius. So are many Entrepreneurs. Additionally, geniuses want geniuses working for them, and so the start up community is filled with people with ideas exploding out of their minds. It’s a fantastic bunch of people to work with, but like Williams’ comedic genius, there can be a side to it that is anything but funny.

People have long thought that there is a correlation between intelligence and mental illness, and especially between creativity and mental illness.Nancy Andreasen, MD, PhD, studied writersfrom the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This is one of the top, if not the top, writing program in America, producing 17 Pulitzer Prize winners and 6 US Poet Laurets. She said:

To keep reading, click here: Robin Williams and the Dark Side of Genius

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Parker Daws August 12, 2014 at 2:56 pm

I realize I am in the minority, but never really thought Robin Williams was all that funny. I tried hard and watched most things he did. Some were amusing, most just so-so. You can only do so many rubbery faces or zany antics again and again before they lose their luster. I am sorry to see him gone, and think he dramatic was not bad. But comic genius? No, he was a good entertainer, a decent standup comic, and perhaps a likable guy (although the reports on that are more negative than the other way), mostly because of the heavy substance problems. He was significantly into drugs and booze long before it became fashionable, yet most seemed to ignore, if not glorify that aspect of his life.


Evil HR Lady August 12, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Drugs and alcohol use can lead to depression. Depression can lead to drug and alcohol use. It’s hard to tell which came first.

Regardless, people in your office are likely suffering from depression right now and it’s affecting the work and the environment. We pull together to help when someone gets pneumonia, why not when someone is suffering from depression?


Tony August 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Like a lot of off the wall comedian, Robin had his moments. Some of his movies, like the Fisher King or The World According to Garp, I avoided. Others I could watch multiple times and even own.

His ability to RIFF on just a few moments of interaction with someone is why he was so good at what he did. It is also very draining.

We saw him on a talk show just recently, Graham Norton on BBCA I believe, and he had everyone in stitches including the audience.

I am saddened because what has transpired is going to be very hard on the family and now it is also very public. We should respect their request for privacy and let them grief and come to terms with his death. And enjoy any of his works we find enjoyable and entertaining.


Elizabeth West August 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I’m not sure being creative predisposes someone to mental illness at its core. But this kind of work certainly carries a lot of pressure with it, and it’s often quite a struggle for very little reward. And when creative work is criticized, it’s usually on a personal level compared to other work. No one is going to say you’re an awful person because they don’t like the way you configure your widgets. Show business especially is famous for reducing people to products. For people who are prone to issues, a situation like that can exaggerate it to an alarming degree.

As for the addiction thing, Stephen King, who also has struggled with it, says he didn’t drink because he was a writer. He drank because he was a drunk. A lot of addicts are self-medicating. It’s their first line of defense against a whole host of unpleasant feelings or a hole they can’t seem to fill any other way (see food addiction and/or hoarding as well).

This article is an excellent reminder that no matter what the profession, a lot of employees are struggling and their employers should not make it any worse than it already is. Thank you, Suzanne.


Evil HR Lady August 12, 2014 at 10:58 pm

No matter the cause, we need to deal with it, not hide from it, and not pretend being depressed and suffering from depression are the same thing.

Employers can really stink at dealing with this sort of thing–not that I blame them. Even HR staff aren’t trained mental health professionals.


Northern HR August 12, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Thank you. I love the link for ‘signs of depression’ and the courses within it. I will incorporate it into my Supervisor Training! It is sad that there is a stigma behind any type of mental illness, no matter what size it is. The more open we are with one another in life and the workplace, the more we can empathize with one another and help each other out. It also helps us to recognize ‘warning flags’. There should be no shame in sharing our own personal stories, fears, frustrations, anxieties or feelings as people have a tough time understanding what they don’t know.

You are right about Robin Williams – the man was a genius and we are lucky in our life time to have the chance to learn from him:) May he rest in peace.


Evil HR Lady August 13, 2014 at 8:18 am

I really, truly hate making employers responsible for all aspects of a person’s life. But, since we’re at work more than we’re (awake) at home, and we have captive audiences at work, we should talk about that.


LVD August 14, 2014 at 10:57 pm

As someone who has struggled with supervising an employee who was struggling with mental health issues. I have received tremendous support from Employee Assistance myself, as well as disability services. (and this blog…thank you evil hr lady)

1. Always ask yourself – is there a way to make this situation easier- chunking assignments…putting them in writing.

2. Ask for help from professionals available…if not HR…who do they recommend.

3. Listen to the experts…some behaviors (like lying) are performance issues. There is no accommodation for lying.

4. Document and remain detached.


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